Webometric Thoughts

December 16, 2009

The meaning of ‘citations’ on the social web

Filed under: attention,citations — admin @ 9:06 am

It has long been recognised in the world of scientific publishing that the rich get richer and the poor get poorer as authors vie for attention: The Matthew Effect. On the social web the problem is exacerbated through a combination of greater variation in the quality of publishing, the ease of ‘citing’, and social rewards for citing first. This can result in highly cited works of very dubious quality.

Publishing has traditionally been limited by space: If you publish one article you won’t have space to publish another, therefore you should choose wisely. Online the cost of space is negligible, so sites often publish stories that are pretty worthless. A good example of this is an Econsultancy post on “What would a Tory government mean for SEO?

As a pointless article with absolutely no substance it should attract little attention. However it is on a very popular site, so (according to Topsy) it nonetheless gets 50 retweets (admittedly one is mine). It’s a pattern that’s regularly repeated all over the web, with numbers dwarfing a mere 50 retweets. A post that may be described as “naive and lazy” by one person, can easily find itself retweeted over a thousand times if the right person is posting it and the mob want to jump on the bandwagon.

Whilst the cost of space is negligible, few online publishers (and promoters) take into consideration the cost of time to the reader. Whilst users don’t have to subscribe to a feed, many will have subscribed to feeds as the sites were working hard to build a reputation, unfortunately they remain in the feedreader when the sites are starting to coast. Maybe it’s time that I put Econsultancy in the same bin as Mashable, which tipped from being mostly useful to mostly pointless over a year ago for me.

Whilst many of the posts on this site will fall firmly in the “not worth the attention” category, my audience has little expectation of anything else :-)

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